Many ESL teachers adhere to the principles of Communicative Language Teaching which includes such characteristics as cooperative language learning and groupwork. However, not everyone has embraced the emphasis on groupwork in modern language classrooms.
This post will explain some of the common objectives to groupwork in order to inform language teachers as to what concerns some have with the popularity of groupwork.
Use of the L1 Groupwork
If a class has a large number of students who share the same L1 there is a risk that the students will use their L1 when working in groups. This is a particular risk in EFL classrooms. However, there are several ways to address this problem
- Make sure the task is of moderate difficulty. Too hard or too easy will encourage L1 use
- Provide clear directions. If the students don’t understand what to do they will communicate frustration in their own language
- Emphasis the use of the L2. This provides relevance and accountability
Lost of Control
Groupwork usually looks chaotic and messy. Some teachers and administrators do not like the appearance of groupwork even if learning is taking place. Dealing with this problem requires the use of a reduced emphasis on groupwork but not the total removal of it.
There are times when group work should be avoided because of control issues. Below are some examples
- Difficult students
- Extremely large class sizes (how large depends on the teacher)
- Inexperience teacher
Any of these situations call for caution for the teacher. Furthermore, it is necessary for the teacher to circulate throughout the room and try to support the various groups. This is difficult but normally easier than trying to support all students individually.
L2 Use in Groups will Reinforce Errors
Some argue that students using the L2 with proper feedback will develop bad habits. This true but bad habits in the L2 may be better than not using the L2. For some, broken English is better than no English.
The concern here is looking at fluency vs accuracy. Each teacher can have their preference but constant correction often discourages language use. As such, free-flowing conversation with the teacher looking the other can help in developing fluency.
Some students prefer to work alone. However, communication is a group experience. This means that the quiet ones must experience at least some groupwork in order to develop their language skills. Therefore, the teacher needs to encourage some groupwork regardless of student preference.
Groupwork should be a part of most language classrooms. The question is trying to find the appropriate balance of groupwork with other forms of learning. This is left for each teacher to decide for themselves.